Special Topic: Prophesies

There have been numerous instances when I’ve spoken rather skeptically about the prophesies Jesus utters. I’ve been on any number of websites where the author is rather critical of those who, like me, dismiss the possibility of actual predictions. That is to say that I assume, every prediction that Jesus makes is ex post facto. Authors with a more religious, or perhaps faith-based approach do take the idea of legitimate prophesy by Jesus as not only possible, but likely.

There is one point to be made about this. The main reason I’m skeptical about the prophesies of Jesus–or of Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or any other in the HS–is that, unfailingly, they come true. Now, this is not surprising for a divine individual; but if the individual is not divine, then it defies probability that all Jesus’ prophesies came to be. I bring this up because I’m currently reading a book about the Persian invasions of Greece in the period 490-479 BCE. In the telling of these invasions by Herodotus, there are a number of prophesies given by the oracle of Delphi. As it happens, the author of the book I’m reading (a secondary source, rather than Herodotus himself) just discussed these oracles. This is a topic of some debate among historians; are any of the oracles recorded by Herodotus or elsewhere, genuine. That is, were they actually uttered by the Pythia, recorded by the priests and set into hexameter verses before the event in question? Or were these also ex post facto creations? The author brings up an excellent point about the authenticity: a lot of the oracles were wrong. For example, when the Athenians asked if they should resist the Persian onslaught, the oracle told them to “fly, doomed ones”. Prior to the invasion, that sure woudl have seemed to be wise and excellent advice, predicting an outcome very likely to come to pass. How the Greeks actually managed to pull off the defeat of the enormous invasion force is one of the more unexpected events in history. Yet, defeat them the Greeks did.

IOW, the oracle was wrong. In fact, a lot of the oracles Herodotus records were wrong. If they weren’t they were so craftily worded that they would prove correct in either case. The most famous is the Lydian King Croesus, who asks if he should fight the Persians. The answer was, “if you fight the Persians, you will destroy a mighty empire”. Taking that as a positive response, Croesus fought and lost. The “mighty empire” he destroyed was his own. And the Spartans got a similar answer about whether they should attack the city of Tegea. The oracle predicted that the Spartans would measure the plain of Tegea with dancing steps. Thinking this prophesied success, the Spartans attacked, were defeated, and ended up as slaves working in the fields, thus measuring the plain. Anyway, the author of the book (Persia and the Greeks; The Defence of the West 560-479, by A.R. Burns) says that anyone making up an oracle after the fact should be expected to get the correct answer. That many of these oracles were wrong is a good prima facie case for their authenticity.

So yes, I am skeptical. A 100% accuracy rate is impossible. For a human, anyway. If you accept Jesus’ divinity, of course all standards of human measure go by the way. Since I am writing history and not religion, it is impossible to accept these predictions as anything other than after-the-fact.

This, of course, has implications for the Q debate. But then, what doesn’t? The point is that when Jesus makes a prediction that is only in Matthew and Luke, and so supposedly came from Q, there is almost a zero percent chance that the words recorded were spoken by Jesus. Much more likely, they were invented after the fact. But if there is material in Q that was not spoken by Jesus, then what do we have? A collection of stuff that was said by…someone. That could have been said by anyone. In which case, the whole definition of Q changes. And this is a big problem I see with Q: the content and definition is very malleable. As such, we have to ask whether Q has any meaning at all.

About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on April 30, 2018, in Q, Special topic and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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